CSA 101: What You Need to Know
By Tom Long / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
The weather is warming, and the growing season is nearly upon us. Once again, we can support local farmers through a CSA.
But don’t wait until the cabbage starts to grow. There are limited shares, and you have to sign up ahead of time.
“Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer,” according to Local Harvest, the organization that “connects people looking for good food with the farmers who produce it.”
The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture lists more than two dozen CSAs from Applecrest Farm Orchards in Hampton Falls to Work Song Farm in Hopkinton. The farms raise corn, lettuce, pumpkins and dozens of other vegetables, as well as baked goods, beef, chicken and seafood.
Here‘s how it works:
A farmer offers a certain number of shares to the public, usually called a membership or subscription, which entitles the holder to a share of seasonal produce each week.
Participants may pick up their shares at the farm, or at delivery sites depending on the CSA. The items available and quantity depend on the harvest, which as we know is weather-dependent.
It’s a win-win. The farmer gets a handy supply of cash and can do some marketing before the busy growing season begins. They are also partly indemnified against losses in a bad year.
The shareholder gets fresh food, is often exposed to new produce and other foods and builds a relationship with the farmer. After all, our dinner does not grow in supermarkets.
Prospective CSA members should do their homework. Do you like produce? We mean really, really like produce? If you don’t, signing up to receive five to 20 pounds a week does not make much sense, so you might want to share your share with a friend, neighbor or family member or opt for partial shares if the CSA offers them.
Are you willing to try new veggies, fruit or fish and experiment in the kitchen and perhaps learn how to preserve food? Do you want to support your local farmer and preserve picturesque agriculture land? Then CSAs are for you.
Some farmers parse out their bounty in boxes. Others encourage members to take a prescribed amount of what’s available and leave behind what they don’t want.
Some deliver, others do not. So, do your research. The Department of Agriculture website, agriculture.nh.gov, provides links to many of the farms.
Some CSAs offer options that provide much more than veggies.
Local Harvest is a CSA comprised of five certified-organic family farms in the Concord area, which offers three different share sizes for three different growing seasons, including a bread option from Abigail’s Bakery.
In addition to veggies, Benedikt Farm in Goffstown offers cream, milk and other dairy products. Beans and Greens Farm in Gilford allows its members to purchase flowers, meat and dairy products at their farm stand.
Applecrest Farm CSA in Hampton Falls offers apples, pears, plums and other fruit. Brookford Farm in Canterbury offers beef, chicken, eggs, dairy or even a monthly jug of maple syrup in addition to veggies.
Oasis Springs Farm in Nashua delivers hydroponically grown lettuce and microgreens, and eggs. Macleod Orchards in Milford offers subscriptions for apples as well as vegetables and flowers.
Picnic Rock Farm in Meredith flowers and herbs and Winnipesaukee Woods Farm in Gilford offers has flower shares in various sizes.
New Hampshire Community Seafood in Portsmouth is a community supported fishery which delivers fresh fish, shellfish and lobster ravioli to 24 locations in New Hampshire and Maine.
If you want to do good while eating well, you might want to consider buying a CSA share from Fresh Start Farms NH, a collective brand for immigrant and refugee farmers participating in the New American Sustainable Agriculture Program.
There are CSA shares available for fall, summer and autumn with 17 pick-up locations throughout southern New Hampshire and the Seacoast. Check out freshstartfarmsnh.com/csa for more details.
To get more information, the NH Department of Agriculture has a directory of CSAs in the state at agriculture.nh.gov/publications-forms/documents/csa-directory.pdf listed in alphabetical order.